Thursday, 26 November 2009

The consolations of an education

God, I feel sorry for young graduates nowadays:
  • There are more students than ever before (nearly two million) meaning competition for graduate jobs must be more than ever before (student numbers have increased by about a million over the last twenty years);
  • The competition is supposed to hot up further: the government is still targeting for 50% of school-leavers to get degrees;
  • You may well not earn much more than you would have if you hadn't done a degree (arts graduates will earn over a lifetime about £35k on average more than a non-grad with two A-levels) with this premium presumably reducing further as more graduates are produced. What's more your chances of out-performing become a lot worse if you take your debts into account, which...
  • ...will be higher than ever before (between about £15k and £25k on average depending on who you believe);
  • At the moment, and for the next few years, your chances of getting a job are about as bad as they've ever been.
Oh, and even if you get a traditional graduate job the odds are that you won't be able to afford a middle-class family home (or, indeed, a middle-class family) until well into your thirties, unless that is you can get hold of some sort of ancestral assistance. Of course, if you don't get the traditional graduate job, you may have to forget about home ownership altogether, or at least for the foreseeable future.

(For what it's worth, I used to run a couple of retail businesses which hired lots of young people to work in shops. By the end, the majority of young hires were graduates of one sort or another who were really over-qualified to do a sales assistant role. They justified the jobs to themselves as stepping stones. The problem was that dozens of stepping stones circled in on just one or two traditional graduate-type jobs within the business...)

Crappy isn't it? If I were an unemployed or poorly employed, indebted graduate, perhaps the first one in my family to go to university, my early high expectations would have turned a bit sour, to say the least. I would be pretty depressed, not to say quite angry.

And there will probably be enough people like this to have an impact on our politics in coming years: imagine hundreds of thousands (even millions) of struggling, disillusioned and articulate voters all bearing a grudge and with little stake in the status quo. They'll seem modern day equivalents to nineteenth-century Russia's 'superfluous men': educated but with no outlet for their talents. And we know how well that turned out...

At least, they'll have the age-old consolations of an education to comfort them (if that is, indeed, what they received); quite ironic given the traditional justifications for an education have been cast aside by this government, it being all about economic competitiveness now. According to Orwell in Down and Out in Paris and London, they won't 'face poverty with a blank, resourceless mind', unlike the uneducated poor. That's something worth having, I suppose.


Gadjo Dilo said...

Yes, this "get all the kids into university" idea always seemed to me one of the most wrong-headed of the educational ideas I hear British governments have implemented recently. To be a bit blunt and functionalist for a minute, how many sociologists (with massive debts) does a country really need? Now, the Open University though, that's a different matter.

worm said...

for some reason this government seems hell bent on driving us towards the european system, where in places like Germany and France, an employer will not look at you unless you have exactly the required grades, regardless of your other experience or proficiency

Brit said...

Yes, New Labour took an admirable idea (all kids should have the opportunity to go to university) and turned it into a very stupid idea (50% of kids should go to university whether it will do them any good or not).

Anonymous said...

i think employers now are indifferent to grades in the Humanities, or even suspicious. i left Durham with a BA 1st and MA Distinction in English Lit and most of my job interviews went as follows:

Interviewer, looking at cv with contempt: Well, you're, uh...very well-educated.

[looks at other interviewer and shakes head slightly]

Gareth Williams said...

A similar thing happened to me. At the time I had one Masters degree and was studying for another. Following a very long silence, the interviewer's first question was 'Why did you get a 'B' in your 'O' Level History'?